Dance Diaries turn back time to a forgotten era

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In a world where we hear more about twerking than Highland dancing, there is a wonderful treat in store for those who would like to find out what the social people of Inveraray and Upper Lochfyneside were doing in the years between 1919 and 1927.

The Dance Diaries of Christina McKellar is a detailed insight into the dance scene in a time that may seem barely unrecognisable to our modern eyes.

Christina, was of her time – a lady’s maid to the Noble family in both Scotland and England – and kept a detailed list of the dances she completed and who her dance partners were.

Her son, Gordon Simpson, has meticulously copied out the dancing information from two exercise books he inherited from his mother when she died in 1989.

Gordon had not looked at the books until he picked them up again in May 2015 and realised they held within them a ‘legacy of that world, one which disappeared forever, lost in the Highland mist’.

Christina’s diaries are a privileged and rare insight into the ordinary life of a young woman emerging into society from her life on a large estate on the west coast of Scotland.

Between the notes Christina, or Teenie as she was known, has meticulously made about dances and partners are the nuances of love and romance – not to mention flirting and good fun.

She was 16 when the diary begins on April 25, 1919. Dances and their venues are listed with names such as Triumph, Flowers of Scotland, Common Schottische, Quadrilles, Eightsome Reels, the Military Two-Step and the La Varsoviana.

The names of long-forgotten partners are also recorded.

Christina also makes notes on the social events including ‘four dances past before we arrived. Kate and I cycled round and came away early at 1.30am with car’.

On January 29, 1924, the castle staff dance was held in the Jubilee Hall in Inveraray. Supper was eaten with Donald Campbell and he featured heavily as a dance partner. The notes from Christina say: ‘All went down in St Catherine’s car with Bealdie and Annie and Peter McCrae (arguments). Home about 4.30. Duncan had his fiddle with him.’

Comments made by the transcriber state: ‘There would seem to be some sort of argument. Duncan must have played the fiddle.’

On February 15, Christina writes: ‘Beautiful moonlight night. K and I cycled round. Met J MacNicol and J McMillan at McNairs. Cycled to the hotel. The St Catherine’s car came as we came. Kate causing sensations with W McC. Eyes on cheek bones. Bob Anderson, J Rodgers, B McNab and Mrs McVicar and K and I and Barb cycled home. In bed at 5 o’clock. Shinty match between Kyles and Inveraray the next day (Sat) Inv. winning by 4-3. Lovely day also. Had great fun (home early) “the long and the short” of it disappointed.’

The diaries also contain a mystery for Gordon, as he writes in his wonderfully unpretentious foreword: ‘There are references to “tickets” in the dance list. On some of the original diary pages, stapled onto them with now rusty pins and a small piece of ribbon, are small pieces of serrated paper that appeared to be them. There are a few words written on these. Examples are “Mistress Jean, find the Laird of Cockpen”, “The Cook seeks the Policeman” and “Echo find Narcissus”. Obviously these have an explanation, but what? Is it some form of early flirting?’

But the real beauty is the dairy itself. John MacKenzie features heavily in more than 120 dances, and the provider of the tea is often noted.

Books can be bought locally in Here We are In Clachan, The Tree Shop in Cairndow, Inveraray Castle gift shop and from the author himself, Gordon Simpson, on 01724 720111.

Christina McKellar kept a diary of the dances she attended between 1919 and 1927. no_t28 chritina mckellar 1no,

Christina McKellar in the early 1920s. no_t28 christina McKellar 2no

The book cover from The Dance Diaries of Christina McKellar no_t28 christina mckellar 3no